Wednesday, March 24, 2010

On Climate: An Integral Discussion

 from the Ken Wilber (Integral) meetup group discussion:

T.M. : "Jim Turney's remarks practically had me leaping to my feet from my little red mushroom stool as he described politics as lurching from walking solely on one's left foot, becoming exhausted, and then walking solely on the right foot until exhausted again. He called for a recognition that each of us has politics as individual as our fingerprints, but under-girding our views are the same competing poles: particularly of freedom vs order. And we're not going to get anywhere until we can address the concerns of both poles in a way that frees them to recognize their own need for the opposite pole. This is very much a theme of my own work in dialoguing with fundamentalists and thus resonated strongly. Where do I sign up?!! Jim Garrison, board member of Wisdom University and founder of the State of the WorldForum, called us to wake up to the fact that 90% of humanity will be wiped out within 40 years if we don't act immediately to cut carbon emissions by 80%. When a questioner challenged the doability of that, Jim compared hesitation to hanging one's head in despair as a fire is breaking out in the kitchen. STOP EVERYTHING and fight it, he said. He also told us that corporations can reach the targets with cuts in their profits of only one third, and that he is finding foreign corporations more receptive than American, with Brazilian firms replanting the rain forest and Chinese firms leaping out front in developing green technology... At the end I felt an overwhelming desire to integrate the passions of our two speakers. As Ron asked at dinner afterward, how can Jim G's message be communicated with Jim T's insight about what is needed to reach people with a very different worldview? I was also confused by the followup remarks of Jim Garrison's colleague that sustainability will create prosperity. While that is clearly true in the long run, how does it square with Garrison's call for a one third cut in corporate profits? Doesn't that mean a one third cut in my retirement fund, setting my thermostat to 40 degrees, and walking the ten miles to work? I am willing to do that if that will save the earth. But I suspect (and here I am editorializing) that much of the resistance to believing in climate change is really fear that the cure is almost as bad as disease. How do we speak to that?"
And here is my response: Dear T.M. et al,

 There are many moments of possibility of integrating the will to material prosperity with the will to reduce for the sake of an integrated whole, sustainable Earth. We have seen the rise of a race toward carbon neutrality and carbon sinkage in communities (and many countries) around the world. In the US, it is our cities and states that are leading the charge; like Maryland, Annapolis, and Seattle, just to name those efforts which I am currently researching.

Municipalities and states (those not economically solely dependent on fossil fuel) have more to gain in the short term as well as long term by re-tooling for a carbon neutral future. On the other hand, nations and some provinces are composed of a broader patchwork of developmental levels and economies. 

When regions have a broader range of represented memes, the advance of progress is "hindered" (slowed) by messy democratic processes.

Where does this lead? I see one particularly likely, but sad route: a climate Pearl Harbor. My worst fear would involve an event like the ice shelf sliding off of Greenland, creating a nearly instant rise in Atlantic and Arctic sea levels, the Gulf Stream being knocked off course, not to mention the huge "dark earth" solar radiation absorption panel the size of a small continent.

 Who knows, maybe we can manufacture enough Mylar to quickly cover Greenland and reflect the rays back out into space.

This frightful motivator notwithstanding, there may be yet a moment of shift toward a carbon neutral moonshot. May it be born out of America's competitive Orange nature instead, as other nations leap forward into clean energy economies, inshallah! And lastly, my idea to integrate "the Jims' " passions lies in the power and possibility of youth. The good news is that the 30-and-under set (Millennials) are largely already on board, even in many traditionally Orange and Blue areas of the US. This is why my friends and I launched Swing Semester - to hold up a big mirror to the Milliennial Generation, and push them into purposeful action. I love the fact that they defy the binary left-right political spectrum. This goes to show you that their level of functioning is somewhere beyond traditional definitions! There has been ample evidence at Copenhagen, here locally in the PowerShift Climate Conferences with around 5,000 in attendance, not to mention polling data on attitudes and beliefs. Many of them have little interest in traditional partisan distinctions. I look forward to seeing you all soon and hearing your thoughts and actions. 

Best, Sirtosky

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Monday, March 15, 2010

These People Want to Stop Human Aging by 2029

Oh, telomeres!
From the Greek telos, meaning end and meros, meaning part.  Why are these endparts important to oncology, cancer research, and aging?  The human machine must be constantly renewed at the cellular level to keep the body working.  However, over time, our body loses functionality, lubrication, and elasticity, due in great part to cells that have reached the end of their ability to replicate, thanks to the caps on their chromosomal DNA.  These telomere caps determine the number of times our cells can divide and replicate.  Scientists often compare them to the protective tips (aglets) on the end of shoe laces because they prevent the strands of DNA from unraveling, degrading, and binding with other chromosomes.  So, when you die you're literally reaching the end of your rope - your DNA ropes.  On the other hand, when telomeres are suspended or lengthened they allow cells to proliferate to the point of being cancerous.  Oncologists would like to put short, functioning telomeres on cancer cells as soon as they're discovered, while a few mad scientists want to extend or remove telomeres as a pseudo fountain of youth.  It would be somewhat analagous to making our whole body a controlled cancer.  Yummy!

When telomeres get down to about 5,000 repeats they die of old age, according to William Andrews, one of the longevity obsessed scientists at Sierra Sciences who is cooperating with the Manhattan Beach Project to end aging by 2029.  He says, that by looking at telomere length in a blood sample "I can tell how old you are and how long you have before you die of old age."

Here is the alarming article from h+ magazine that details this misguided project.  My mental red flags were a-waving, and nausea quickly overcame me as I began asking the 6 important questions about important new technologies and society (Neil Postmann) as so wisely taught by my professor Stephen Butler.

Here are six questions Postman says we must ask when someone tells us about a new technology -

1. What is the problem to which this technology is a solution?
2. Whose problem is it?
3. What new problems might be created by solving the original problem?
4. Which people and what institutions will be most seriously harmed by this new technology?
5. What changes in language are being forced by these new technologies?
6. What sort of people and institutions gain special economic and political power from this new technology?

    • Because often, it's poor people that are the last to see the technology and the first to get the shaft.  They usually endure the worst fallout of the technology, aren't informed or warned of impending dangers, have the least say in the matter, and the least access to discussion about it.  Below I've posted some excerpts of a really great discussion about the impact of "immortal technology" in response to the article from _h+_Magazine_.  Some of them believe that capitalism and the captains of industry will crumble as we see affordable robots being available in the average home.  These foreseen robots would be able to replicate products.  Those of you who pay attention to the pace of technology have to admit that that is not just a pipe dream.  Others in the debate feel like we are entering a new phase in feudalism at a level that calls the movie _Stargate_ to mind, a future defined by a new "transhuman elite" and indentured slave labor.  One of the civilized world's worst nightmares.  And still others feel that the majority of the disenfranchised will revolt, and open-source internet and technology will save the day.   I'd rather allow time to take its course, as few things are certain in our unstable, wild-card world.

Submitted by Oracle (not verified) on Fri, 12/11/2009 - 11:48.
If advances in robotics and software algorithms eliminate the majority of jobs instead of eliminating the idea of work altogether. If artificial scarcity is forced upon the public through DRM locked nanofactories instead of open source MNT that can make anything for pennies... eliminating the need for money and credit

If human genetic enhancement and radical life extension are only available to the wealthy in said artificial scarcity model economy  If the nation state model begins to move to a centalized bureaucracy (EU, NAU, ASEAN) staffed by unelected officials controlled by special interests (read: fractional reserve bankers), instead of more transparent governments that are directly accountable to their constituents

The above situations, if they play out, will cause tremendous social, poltical and economic strain the likes of which we've never seen. No amount of media spin will be able to cloud the argument. These inequalities can't be ignored, denied or made light of. You're either a slave or you're not. Will we see an empowered humanity freed from disease and wage slavery or will we have a neo-feudalist global plantation dominated by a transhuman elite? Conflict will explode using lethal nanotech weapons. Hugo De Garis may not have to worry about an Artilect War. Humanity may have gigadeath war not over species dominance, but over issues concerning control and dominance over the population.

         reply    Submitted by Valkyrie Ice (not verified) on Fri, 12/11/2009 - 22:34.
yep. quite true.    However, I don't foresee that happening for one very simple reason. The internet.
All of those things require control of information.

The internet allows the universal dissemination of information.
DRM has been being tried for how many years now? It's still useless. Anyone who is seriously interested can find a way around DRM.
The feudal system ended when the printing press arrived. Information was suddenly available and accessible to the masses. The Social order was over turned when the knowledge previously controlled by the Church was suddenly uncontrolled. Knowledge previously hard to obtain in very rare tomes owned by only a few suddenly was being passed around by many. The Reformation occurred because the common man could now access the knowledge once only the priests could read.
All forms of Tyranny depend on suppression of knowledge. Our history has proved this time and again. Suppression doesn't work forever though. Sometimes it doesn't work at all. Our modern "war on drugs" certainly hasn't, and as climategate is proving, all it takes is one leak on the internet to open a huge can of worms.
A DRM controlled nanofactory might be tried. But as sure as a black market for drugs appeared as soon as they were made illegal, and a million DRM free mp3 sites sprung up following the attempts to ban music sharing, a black market for non-DRM nanofactories will occur.
And as Drexler pointed out, all it takes is one single self-replicating nanofactory to create a world filled with them.
We've been slaves to the Corporatacracy. But we're moving out of that phase now. They are trying like hell to restore their power through lobbying to kill reform in health and finance and eliminate net neutrality, but all they are truly doing is spending millions on efforts that will fail. They may buy a few more years of life, but that is all.
The only ones who will survive are those who adapt to the new realities. Google seems like it might do well, but those who continue to cling to the past won't.
We're at the start of the elbow curve for the internet. It's been growing in power slowly, but the next decade it is going to skyrocket in influence, especially once VR becomes commonplace.
In 20 years... there may not be a tyrant left standing.

         Submitted by Stephen Crowley (not verified) on Fri, 02/26/2010 - 09:25.
Google is becoming cozy with the NSA.. no one is safe as long as the Patriot Act is in effect. We need pervasive cryptography.. the freenet project has come a long way.. need more like it.
Eventually one company will figure out that it's too expensive to maintain manufacturing facilities when they can put desktop units in every home and simply concentrate on design and R&D sold online to customers who can "print" it out at home. Due to the fact that a home unit could easily build all the parts for another home unit, there's very little profit to be made "selling" them, but lots of money to be made in "branded" designs.
But as individuals begin building a database of "open source" designs, even professional designs will begin to have to be charged less and less for.
And this applies not only to manufacturing, but almost every business you can think of.
Cheap robot labor is inevitable. And once it is available, it WILL dominate the business world, because it'll be the only way to continue to profit... and that very fact will drive the final nails in capitalism.
Groups can fight, try to supress, and ban and outlaw, and all that will occur is the one company which embraces the new technology will begin looking at the rest as lunch.
It's a dog eat dog world after all.
As for how soon... well if you are a roboticist, you might find this interesting:

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Amygdala Hijacks and You

Key: italics= [sic]

What's your flavor?
Well, apparently almond, since that's the etymology of this almondform part of the proto or old mammalian brain, i.e., limbic system. Some people call the amygdala the "reptilian brain," which is actually the brainstem. The Mr. Wizard of philosophy, Howard Richards, who first introduced me to this exciting piece of the noodle brought it up in the course of Philosophy of Education.  This was back in '02 when the amygdala hijack just started becoming all the rage in pop psychology (pun intended).  I believe it had to do with the conundrums of educating angry, messedup kids. While those who are brought up in violent environments will tend to exercise less control over their fight (and perhaps flight) responses, all human beings, even those raised in the most ascetic and mindful or "Tao" cultures will succumb to the might of this tiny ancient brain. Yes, it's nutty.

But all puns aside, here is the best video introduction to the amygdala I've seen on the interwebs, enjoy!  Is it me, or does he seem to be having a little amygdala hijack?

Here's a little  mnemonic song I wrote for you about the chain reactions going on in our hot heads:
~the amygdala reacts to the hormones, hormones come from adrenals, the adrenals connect to the pituitary, the pituitary's connected to the hypothalamus, and oh how they scare!~

I risk being didactic by saying that we humans really need to recognize and accept the fact that this 18 minute takeover is common and unavoidable.
When was the last time you raised your voice (or wanted to)? AmygdaBAM!
Did you ever break a sweat during a test or in front of a crowd? AmygdaBAM!
Flip the bird in traffic? Amygdabam!
Shocked at a surprise birthday party? Amygdabam!
Just learn that your child/spouse/parent/best friend is gay? Amygdabam!
Flashbacks, PTSD? Amygdabam!
The time you climbed the tree licketysplit at the sight of a sabertooth tiger? Amygdabam!
Sweaty palms at the movie theater (from your date or the horror)? Amygdabam!
Turned down for a job or promotion? Amygdabam!
Gramma lifts the car to free you from certain death? Amygdabam!    See, aren't hormones like corticosteroids (cortisol), adrenaline (epinephrine/norepinephrine) great?!

What are you "favorite" hijack moments.  We can all recall ones that live on in infamy.  What events tend to trigger your hijacks?  How often do you have them?  I encourage you to make a list.  The more you become aware, the less they have the power to totally determine your thoughts and actions.

How about when you ate that tub of ice cream in one sitting, or... Many of our mindless activities, even enjoyable leisure activities are ways we deal with the emotional onslaught of all those neurochemicals and associated body sensations (acid stomach, tight shoulders/neck, the infamous tension headache). My father dealt with his anxiety attacks (amygdala hijacks) by running to the ole microsoft and playing minesweeper and hearts and taking about three Xanax (alprazolam).

Please, accept this morally neutral phenomenon as soon as possible. It's neither an evil that must be exorcised, nor a benign entity that deserves free reign over our behavior. Adrenal takeover of your executive functioning: your reasoning, your smarts, your sense of empathy, fairness, justice, love, peace, etcetera - gone. And then it's followed by a chemical residue (extraneous stress hormones) for three to four hours.

Boo.  I mean, yay? Well, most of us would be dead or severely injured without a properly functioning amygdala. By the way, freezing, or shutting down is also symptomatic of said hijack. Whether you recognize it or not, you are familiar, and you play host to this frequent visitor that we sometimes indulge. I know I do! The television and the endless interwebs rabbitholes are my favorite mindless past-time that help me remain in that brainless non-executive state of functioning. I can prolong the numb residuals of adrenal hormones (steroids!). Not only does the interaction of hormones and the old brain help granny to lift that car off the baby, but it also helps you remember! Yes, if you haven't noticed, emotions help with long-term memory.

“The amygdala is promiscuous as to the actual experience,” McGaugh says. “It’s just activated by emotional arousal. It doesn’t have to be a negative emotional experience. If it’s positive and it engages the amygdala, it will be a stronger memory.” Unforgettable: Memory Research., D. Pendick

This is why we sometimes wallow immediately following a hijack. Many of us seek to avoid the traumatic emotional memories and high stress levels associated with certain incidents our brain recognizes. Your brain remembers getting called into the principal's office when the boss wants to talk with you in private at an odd point of the day. Just like the Iraq vet "recalls" the IED explosion when the care engine backfires. And, as opposed to what my above-referenced presenter said, we can't stop it, prevent it, placate it. And you shouldn't always want to. We don't live in a world made of marshmallow fluff inhabited only by Pollyannas and HH Dalai Lama. We need to dodge the bullets and react quickly when we're needed to serve with valor.

I think we live in amazing times where we can know and even predict what will happen inside our body and brains. As humans get used to the idea of the macrocosm (satellite images of Earth, the UN, global trade, the interwebs), I hope we mentally digest the wisdom of the microcosm. Our bodies are fabulous and mystical machines (if ever an oxymoron), and if we treat them (and nature) as our allies, then we should be able to live healthier, happier lives, and save the planet while we're at it.

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Friday, March 12, 2010

All about Flow

My friend Bek is a cultural creative.  One of the newest ideas that came from a conversation with her:  you decide what age you're turning on your birthday.  No need to be a slave to chronology.  As the ontological truism states - the self is a phenomenon that arises out of creation or a creative state.

My own personal awakening into a reality that brings meaningful creation into all areas of life follows a line that began with Viktor Frankl (Man's Search for Meaning).  And I've continued on the path, absorbing and attempting to live the lessons given by "Dr. Mike" Csiszentmihalyi's (Flow),  Paulo Coehlo's AlchemistEckhart Tolle, Taoism, Buddhism,  Landmark Education (the legacy of the much-maligned Werner Erhard).  They all share one thing in common, what psychologists call an Internal Locus of Control.

Mihalyi has spent the majority of his adult life researching and naming the type of life, peak experience described by the Flow (Optimal Experience)  .  I'm currently participating in the Landmark seminar "An Invented Life," which is based on the basic brain science of being AWARE of our rote patterns and instincts based on the past and survival.  The state of Flow or "self as creation" experience arises out of realizing that our constant inner monologue/commentary/judgments and behavior patterns do not equate The Self.  The Self is the strong and quiet voice that arises when one is observing all of our thought/action memory patterns.

The fundamental principle that draws all these ideas together:  You can choose your attitude, the contents of your consciousness.  It's the path that I follow, as well as many of today's cultural creatives like John Mackey of Whole Foods (, his friend Brian Johnson,, Oprah, Van Jones, just to drop some big names.  This is a path which require practice, especially for those of us who came from unbalanced, superficial, or outright abusive and morally deprived homes or communities.  However, the tendency to want to grow into the light, and maximize potential while enjoying oneself has neurological, writ bio-genetic roots.

And roots are an apt metaphor used by many thinkers.  I love Frankl's story about the potato which, existing in utter darkness, will send out roots in all directions until it finds light.  At that point leaves start to sprout and it takes root.  I experienced a mild degree of physical abuse and a lot of persistent psychological abuse.  I share a common psychological culture with many of those who grow up in relatively resource-rich middle-class and even materially wealthy cultures, that are spiritually or psychically poor.  While experiencing none of the depravity of famine, genocide, or decay inherent to a culture of poverty, the mind, thoughts and emotions, and even the soul can become just as twisted.  It really has little to do with class, status, or material resources.  People in rural Haiti are known for their persistent smiles that are rooted in true happiness.  While death, tragedy, and disease plague that nation, a rich culture of the mind abides.  But there are also unhappy cultures:  it's no surprise to me that Eastern European countries are some of the unhappiest nations on earth, where the best stress coping mechanism seems to involve alcohol.  However, as of 2002, Zimbabwe is the unhappiest nation polled, which follows as they've been led by an increasingly insane and dictator over the last 30 years, who has driven their relatively high level of material prosperity to a very low level.  As for "the happies," I'm not sure why Denmark is up there, but the rest seem to be places where people readily and frequently engage in communal fun like dancing; wine, beer, and food festivals.

Even pop news is getting in on this stuff, at least Katie Couric cites some good recent research in this here YouTube video.  And if Katie says it, it must be true.

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The UN Goes to Hollywood—But Is It Ready for a Close-Up?

The UN Goes to Hollywood—But Is It Ready for a Close-Up? This is just one part of a conversation started by my friend Kyra: I agree with her point that in the mass media feedback loops make a much bigger impact than soundbites/ytes. Maybe the UN needs to hire people that have the knack for successfully engaging people. I think UNICEF's messaging is good, at least by having distanced itself in the public's eye from the UN. But here's the catch - the UN is roughly as fashionable across America as the fight for AIDS research... maybe even less so. You have small, but LOUD groups on the fringes - one extremely supportive, the other calling the UN a communist New World Order org bent on destroying US sovereignty. I think coastal Americans have positive associations, if not somewhat apathetic. But the folks in the Middle are for the most part apathetic if not outright hostile. So, I think the coastal chunks and the supporters are ready to be engaged. Middle America needs more positive associations. I would like to see this, esp. in light of the fact that more political and commercial dollars are spent on manipulation and messaging to Middle America than any other. I think only time will show whether showing up at awards ceremonies is a way to create positive associations with the apathetic Middle. Consider the Red Ribbon campaign - largely popularized by awards shows. Really, I think the the UN should use new media. And as far as new media go - there are cloying or boring new media, and then there are sexy yet CLASSY new media. I firmly believe that you can make noble ideas sexy. To be clear, I mean desirably eye-catching, not erotic. The UN might have to hire classy, hip people to pull it off. Brave New Films, Oprah, Michael Moore, the One Campaign, Whole Foods have all managed to pull off noble and "sexy." Rock on. Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License.